Sep 7, 2023 · 37 min read

Listen: Why We Should All Say Yes To Affordable Housing

CZI grantees talk housing affordability solutions and homelessness prevention on Andy Slavitt’s "In the Bubble" podcast.

Housing grantees Tomiquia Moss, founder and CEO of All Home California, and Tommy Newman, vice president of engagement and activation at United Way of Greater Los Angeles pictured with Andy Slavitt, host of the podcast, "In the Bubble."
Left to right: Andy Slavitt, host of the podcast, “In the Bubble,” talks homelessness and housing affordability with CZI Housing Affordability grantees Tomiquia Moss, founder and CEO of All Home California, and Tommy Newman, vice president of engagement and activation at United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
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Decades of structural inequities, including discriminatory housing policies, wage disparities and a broken healthcare system, have led to California’s current homelessness crisis. Moving the needle forward on affordable housing will require significant investment in housing production and homelessness prevention, among other solutions.

Our housing grantees — Tomiquia Moss, founder and CEO of All Home California, and Tommy Newman, vice president of engagement and activation at United Way of Greater Los Angeles — share these takeaways and much more during a deep dive with Andy Slavitt, host of the podcast, “In the Bubble.”

Whatever you see on the street, there are so many traumas that are unseen that people are experiencing because of our housing affordability crisis and it requires a lot of nuance and complexity in dealing with the solutions that we bring forward.

Tomiquia Moss

Listen to the episode or read the full transcript below.

Andy: This is “In the Bubble” with Andy Slavitt. Welcome to the show. Email me Andy@Lemonada media. com. You’ll notice my voice is better. Thank you for bearing with me. But you’ll notice on this interview that my voice may get a little scratchy but apologies in advance for that. We have a special Monday episode for you today, diving deep into the question of what it’s like and what we need to do about the unhoused populations, particularly focusing on California. I wanted to do this special episode because I think there is an acute realization that you have when you look into this, that we are, there’s a lot of politics and a lot of opinions around dealing with people who I think for the most part, many people would just assume,  be out of sight, out of mind.  That it is an eyesore that confronts us when we see a tent encampment, that we view the failures that’s happening all around us, whether they are the individuals, whether they’re the mental health system, whether it’s the housing system, and the real struggle for answers. And it’s not as if people aren’t spending real effort, energy, dollars on it. The more you look at it, though, the more what’s inescapable, at least to me, is the conclusion of how much we as individuals are the problem here. Are the reason why we’re not solving this question, and we’ll get into this. But I think it’s really a kind of cold slap of water across the face. That I think we need to look at this issue with if we do care about it,  and we  don’t just want it swept under the rug. We’re going to explore it with a real understanding of what we need to do and how we can all make a difference here. And I’m convinced that my guests today will help you see it that way if you don’t already. And many of you may understand what I’m talking about. But it really is about saying yes to affordable housing at every possible opportunity. Tomiquia Moss  is the founder and CEO of All Home California. And Tommy Newman is the vice president of engagement and activation at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. They are in northern and Southern Californias, respectively. San Francisco and Los Angeles are the epicenter of the unhoused crisis in this country. And California, for all its great qualities, this remains a major, major, major flaw and challenge in the  California model. My two guests are going to help us get into some depth, see this issue for what it is. And I think you will be rewarded for sticking with this episode because they’re great guests. And it’s a topic that we should be spending more time thinking about and should be getting active around. So let’s bring them in. Tomiquia Moss. Welcome to the bubble.

Tomiquia: Thank you so much for having me.

Andy: Tommie Newman, welcome also to the bubble.

Tommy: It’s great to be here.

Andy: You know, I think a good place to start this conversation is to talk about what life is like for somebody who lives without a reliable shelter, address, place to call their own. I think we all have our impressions based upon what meets our eyes when we are out in the street. But I’m not sure if that comports with reality. Tomiquia, do  you want to start?

Tomiquia: Sure. Thanks for the question, Andy. I think it’s such an important place to start because it’s really easy to lose the humanity when talking about the issue of homelessness, because we talk about it in the context of it being quite monolithic. And the fact of the matter is that the precariousness of housing security is so widespread in our state and in our region that so many folks are really just an economic or health emergency away from experiencing this crisis. So the folks that I have worked with who are either unhoused or living in cars, couch surfing, all of those folks have a unique story and experience. But the trauma of not having a stable place to call home, the vulnerability that you feel in terms of your physical and emotional safety. There are thousands of children actually in our region and in our state who are experiencing homelessness, where they go to school and haven’t had a chance to have a hot meal where they are withholding information from their peers and from their teachers about where they sleep at night, where they were able to wash up or bathe in the morning. So these are very foundational components of life that are inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of folks in our state and region. And so when we talk about what is causing this crisis, there are some fundamental structural elements that we’ll get in, get into later on. But I think the way that I think about this is that these are our neighbors. These are our brothers and sisters who are economically, physically, emotionally vulnerable in our communities, oftentimes not because of choices they’ve made as individuals or families. And that’s what I think is important for folks to remember, is whatever you see on the street, there are so many traumas that are unseen that people are experiencing because of our housing affordability crisis and that it requires a lot of nuance and complexity in dealing with the solutions that we bring forward.

Andy: You know, I think about some of the unhealthy emotions that attach to what you talk about. Feeling of shame for something that either because you are trying to provide for your children the best way you can or because you’re showing up as a child to school, not like other kids. Tommy, I wonder if you can help us with your perspective on what’s going on behind what we really see when we see people who are unhoused.

Tommy: Picking up on a phrase that Tomiquia used when we talk about trauma, this is a daily state of trauma for tens of thousands of people in L.A., hundreds of thousands of people in the state of California and across this country. And it builds in really devastating ways. And then it passes from parents to kids to future generations. And so when we’re talking about the failure of our health care system, our housing system, our education system, we have to be thinking about the long term consequences of this. And yet, the sort of default that so many Americans have in their head is well, that must be their choice. That must be their fault. That must be something that they want.

Andy: I think, you know, it’s very hard. The reason I wanted to start with this is because it is so frequent that you have conversations with people who want to talk about the “homeless problem.” And I’ve taken to asking people what they mean by that when they say that and what they think the homeless problem is. And often what I think they think the homeless problem is, is the unsightly tents that they see on their freeway exit or someone trying to wash the window of their car at a freeway exit. And. If they go a little further, they might say, schizophrenia, they might say drug addiction. And it’s so many other things in life we  don’t allow our perception to be entirely colored by the one or two things we happen to see. What are people missing when that is their view of the homeless problem? And I’m not trying to blame anybody for having the right or wrong view. I’m just suggesting that, you know, it’s not something that people have the kind of exposure to that makes this something they really understand how to think about.

Tomiquia: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s really such a key point around the sort of visual manifestation of homelessness when in fact what we’re talking about is what Tommy just mentioned a moment ago, which is housing policies that have been intentionally discriminatory against black and brown folks in this country since its formation. Failed education systems where families with extremely low incomes, those earning less than $35,000 a year, are not able to access quality education. Our health system not being able to, you know, provide adequate health care. These are systemic challenges that have compounded, as he outlined, and those are the conditions that folks are operating within to try to take care of themselves and their families. And so when an individual is faced with every obstacle and barrier because of their incomes, because of their mental health status, because of their lack of community connections, you know, there are a lot of folks who might experience a job loss like me. And I have somebody I can call either my family or my friend network that would be able to assist either financially or provide a room. Many folks who are living on the margins, those that are, you know, really in that extremely low-income housing income category, don’t have those community connections to rely on. So when they have an economic or social emergency, there’s nowhere to go except their car. You know, when I was running Hamilton Families, one of the most staggering realities we were confronted with was the fact that for every family I housed, three more families would become homeless during the same period of time. So with the number of folks in those conditions that are experiencing the economic and social inequities and challenges that are producing the inflow into homelessness so significantly, I think we have to be much more strategic about what the causes are.

Tommy: And just one thing to jump in on that, Andy, because I think it’s such an important point. We, United Way, have been working on this issue in L.A. for 15 years. We do regular focus groups, public opinion surveys, research to try to figure out where are public and political attitudes around this. And in the survey that we did just back in the spring, seven in ten voters in L.A. County believe that it was the failure of the housing system and the health care system that was the primary cause of homelessness. Three in ten voters believed that it was a person’s individual actions or decisions. I don’t think that the same would be true if we did a national survey. Right. I think that is a blue state and a blue county. But what it tells me is that, like with the right amount of information, with people really working to wrap their minds around this, they can understand it. So we’re not totally screwed, but we have a lot of work to do.

Andy: That’s really interesting data and somewhat promising, too, to hear. I mean, so what I’m hearing is a couple of things from you. One is that in addition to the people you’re seeing on the street, there are untold numbers of families who are couch surfing or in motels or sleeping in their cars or in Walmart parking lots that we don’t see. And it might help our hearts a little bit to figure out how to sympathize with the person we see on the street. But if you have a difficult time doing that, understand that there are so many kids who are born into this situation. And then the second thing,  the analogy has been used with me before of musical chairs. And that when you play musical chairs, you have more people than chairs. Well, in the state of California, we are something like 2 million affordable housing units short of what we need, according to some estimates. You may have different numbers than that but what that tells you is if you are playing musical chairs and you happen to be at the low end of the income scale, the landlord’s going to say, no, no, that chair’s reserved for the person that has the ability to make the deposit or has good credit or has a better job or whatever. So that unless that math problem is fixed of enough affordable housing units, there’s always going to be someone at the bottom end of that ladder. So doesn’t that make the point that in addition to everything else, this is a really big structural problem and we got to stop blaming people?

Tomiquia: Yes. Homelessness, in my opinion, is first and foremost a housing problem in our region and in our state. There are folks who need permanent supportive housing, which is a housing type that provides wraparound services for its residents and ongoing rental subsidy allows folks to live out their lives with that deeply supported environment. But there are a lot of folks who are experiencing homelessness who don’t need a lifetime supportive services and housing supports. If, in fact, we had the adequate housing supply to rehouse folks, right. Let’s say during the pandemic, for example, we had, you know, hundreds of thousands of folks who were experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness. Right. And if we actually had enough housing, the trauma, the extended period of time that people have to wait for deeply subsidized housing to be built or to be created, folks are getting sicker. Folks are getting much more exposed to the elements. Folks are having so much more negative experiences. And if we actually had rental assistance that allowed them to get that rent paid that month or legal services when they  might have gotten an eviction notice. But now they have the legal support to provide. So it requires us to have a much more responsive system, both on housing production, having enough housing for everyone, but also preventing homelessness when we can. Because we have so few housing units available for people, folks have to be so desperate and challenged in order to access the small amount of permanent supportive housing we have in our systems. And so I think if we had enough of the housing that folks need at the income levels that they can afford, then that’s how you solve the problem structurally. Certainly folks need other income supports and economic mobility work, which we also do. But if we had the fundamental foundational housing piece, folks are going to have a lot more success.

Andy: Well, as  evidence of that, you know, you look at other parts of the country where housing is more affordable, whether it’s Detroit or Houston or San Antonio or Atlanta, and you don’t have nearly the housing crisis. And it’s not as if you don’t have mental health problems and addiction challenges and people losing their jobs and all kinds of other things in those places. Yet they have much more affordable housing stock compared to the rest of the population.

Andy: So let’s zoom in, Tommy, on California, because it is considered by this country and by the numbers to be a bit of ground zero in this conversation. Now, in California, we had about a year ago or so a race for the mayor in Los Angeles, and homelessness was the primary issue that was at least in the news, and that was debated over. Mayor Bass, the new mayor, has essentially staked her term on being able to make progress and she’s launched an initiative called Inside Safe. And she wants to create quick action. She’s spending billions of dollars, a lot of it state money. And yet she has said, this is going to get worse before it gets better because we don’t have the infrastructure, the housing stock. Take us through, Tommy, what Los Angeles is dealing with and what you think of the mayor’s plan.

Tommy: Yeah. I mean, let’s be clear. Like Skid Row began in the 1930s here in L.A., right? We have had homelessness and deep, deep poverty here for a century, if not longer. So this has been building in L.A. for generations. Generations. And through a confluence of events, mostly the collapse of the housing system in L.A., all of a sudden, these tents started popping up in places outside of downtown L.A., outside of the sort of core metro area. And it was when the tents started popping up in the San Fernando Valley, when people started living in their RVs or their cars in the San Fernando Valley or on the west side of L.A. or the San Gabriel Valley, all of a sudden, homelessness became the number one issue. That was about ten years ago. And all of a sudden, homelessness, poll after poll, survey after survey is the number one priority of voters. And so what we can’t do is confuse homelessness being the number one priority with a willingness of elected officials and the public to attack the root causes of homelessness. These are two different issues. And so Mayor Bass is walking that tightrope as we speak, where she is trying to come up with solutions that bring more folks indoors faster. That’s what Inside Safe is, right? She is buying. She is renting and buying hotels and motel rooms. And she’s going out to encampments and she’s saying, ‘I’ve got a room for you to come in right now.’ And people are because lo’ and behold, most people don’t want to live outside. Right. And so she’s doing that but at tremendous cost. And it’s not a scale play.

Andy: $110 per night.

Tommy: Yeah, it’s not a scale play. Right. That’s $3,000 a month. That’s twice what a studio apartment rents for in L.A. So it’s not a scale play. She’s not going to be able to bring in the 45,000 people who are living outside into hotels and motels at $110 a night. But what she is trying to do, and we’re in strong support of it, is help anchor in people’s minds, in voters minds, that where there are options for people to come indoors, they will gleefully and happily come indoors. That nobody, or at least the vast majority of folks, do not want to be living outside. She’s shown that. She’s demonstrated it. Now, the question is, can we do more? We’ve been doing a lot over the last five years to create more housing. Can we do more to create more housing? That’s the big question. And how fast can we get there?

Andy: So this is a temporary play in order to get more housing built. It brings me back to this conversation that I have and that I’m sure we all have when we talk to people who are casually talking about the unhoused. And in one occasion, more than one occasion, someone will have said to me … and I’ll say, ‘Whose fault do you think it is?’ And they will say, you know, whatever they say. And they will ask me, ‘whose fault do you think it is?’ And I said, ‘Well, I kind of think it’s your fault and my fault.’ And I guess the question is, to what extent is local NIMBYism veiled as it is by this kind of, ‘I care about the issue, just not enough to have affordable housing in my neighborhood,’ problem Tomiquia?

Tomiquia: The challenge we have is, you know, zoning laws are governed locally and when you have communities that get to weigh in on any housing development project, multifamily, that gets built in a community and they go to their city council meetings or their boards of supervisor meetings and contest affordable housing developments because they’re uncomfortable with having those properties in their communities. Or you have most of the communities across the state of California zoned for single family housing only — it’s more than 70% of all of our land across the state, zoned for single families — you have to rezone to be able to build multifamily units, hundreds of units that we’re going to need at scale. Everything doesn’t have to be a high rise but you most certainly have to be flexible in creating different building types in your communities in order to solve this challenge. And I think, as Tommy said, you know, this is historic. I mean, the Bay Area has almost been identified for its NIMBYism, you know, the sort of protectionism of our land and space and the environmental protections which are critical to having lovely parks and green spaces and all of the things. But we’ve kind of used our laws and voice as weapons against the solutions that we actually need to help solve the challenges that our entire society is experiencing. Homelessness isn’t just happening to the person who is unhoused. The crisis of homelessness is happening to our entire neighborhood, to our entire community, and to our entire region and state. And so when you say it’s our fault and your fault, we have to be yes on housing, we have to be flexible about what kinds of housing gets built, how quickly those processes get moved forward in order for us to deliver the housing units in a timely way. In California, in the Bay Area — I can’t speak for Los Angeles — but in order to build a building of 100 units, it takes anywhere from 3 to 5 years to get those units on line. We’ve made efforts to streamline some of those policies, both at the state level and locally, but it takes a really long time to build housing. And unless we can shorten that time, make it cheaper, make it faster and more reliable for our developer community to build those housing units, we’re going to be in this swirl of temporary solutions needing sort of thrown at a historic problem.

Andy: Does it take a long time or do we make it take a long time? I mean, in China and in India, you could build apartment buildings in months. I will admit that I was someone who used to go to a place like Houston and say, ‘Oh my God, you could see the lack of zoning everywhere.’ You could see, you know, a gas station next to a law office, next to a residential building. But you know what? At this point in time, I apologize for my old self and I see the error of my ways because, you know, it is easier to get affordable housing built. And I think political power amasses where people have resources and property. And I’m encouraged by what you said, Tommy, that seven in ten people recognize that it’s not the person to blame and that it’s a system to blame. But I wonder if people really realize to what extent they’re the key to that system changing.

Tommy: I think, to turn Richard Nixon’s phrase around, the silent majority knows it and understands that they are the ones to blame. It is the reason why here in California, our state legislature, over the last, you know, 5 to 10 years has done some remarkable rolling back of local zoning power and local land use power. Remarkable. The cities in California were in charge of housing policy. The cities and the city leaders are responsive to the loudest, angriest, meanest voices. And then throw on top of that, at least in the city of L.A., elections were structured so that they avoided the high turnout elections. So in the city of L.A., the elections were all like May and June because they didn’t want to have big turnout. They didn’t want to have a larger slice of the population voting. And so that’s who was creating our housing policy in L.A. and the consequence was down zoning L.A. by 3 million units over the last 30 years, which is remarkable. And so Sacramento looked at that, and for a while they wouldn’t touch it, Right? Jerry Brown refused to touch housing and homelessness for like the first six years of his eight years.

Tomiquia: I was going to say seven and a half.

Tommy: I was going to say, I was being charitable on the six years. For the first seven and a half Jerry was like, ‘that’s a local issue and you all need to figure it out locally.’

Andy: Jerry Brown number two is a lot different than Jerry Brown number one.

Tommy: He lost a lot of courage and vision. He was good at making that government work up there. He knew where all the bodies were buried, but he stopped pushing, which was real disappointing. And so he didn’t want anything to do with housing and homelessness. But the legislature, to their credit, looked around and said, ‘this is not working.’ And so we need to start passing laws that allow people to build another unit in their backyard, called an accessory dwelling unit, which was fully illegal. So the policy was, we want your backyard to be grass and trees and only for your use and not for people to live. And so that was a state law change, and it has been transformative. And it’s now one of the number one permitted types of housing here in L.A. County. And so just dramatic growth on basically removing the barriers to creating housing. And Sacramento has been driving that.

Andy: Well, let’s talk about what’s not a barrier. I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve had conversations with him, I believe we have a governor who gets it, who understands the problem. I believe we have a governor who is actually more than surface deep in this. But you both might have a different perspective. I believe he’s got budget, $20 billion, that he wants to spend over the next several years. It sounds like there’s increased awareness that you’re pointing out and it sounds like we are changing laws, we are electing politicians like Mayor Bass, Mayor Breed, who I think are people who understand this issue. And in fact, to be honest, it doesn’t hurt that the eyes of the country are sort of on California and say, ‘Y’all have a problem. What are you going to do about it?’ Are these the conditions under which they make you optimistic, Tomiquia?

Tomiquia: It’s such a great question because leadership is so important. I think the challenge we have is that the issue of homelessness is generational, and it cannot be solved in political cycles or with one-time intermittent funding. We have to have a sustained set of strategies that are adequately funded at the scale in which we have to tackle the challenge. And we need our elected leaders, our folks with lived experiences, our business leaders. We need everybody in our community buying into short term, mid-term and long term strategies that are well-supported over time in order for California, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, to actually address homelessness once and for all. So I think our biggest challenge is having the political courage and frankly, throughout all levels of government that’s informed by a community that’s in sync with our business and philanthropic partners, right. To be like, okay, folks, this is not a one time multibillion dollar problem. This is a decades-old, hundreds of billion dollars of challenge that we have to chunk out and figure out what is the most, the highest and best use of our resources and strategies over a sustained period of time. So I think that’s our sort of Achilles heel, and everybody asks me, Andy, ‘We are spending more money on this issue than we ever have before, and it feels like it’s getting worse.’ Well, guess what, folks? It is getting worse. It’s getting worse for poor people to sustain themselves in California, where you have a studio apartment in San Francisco going for $3,500 a month. And more than 100,000 folks in the nine County Bay area are earning less than $35,000 a month. Black folks in San Francisco, on average, their area median income is 30,000 a year. So tell me how you expect … , mind you, we haven’t really talked about the racial disparities that exist among folks who are experiencing homelessness in poverty. This isn’t happening to everyone. In any community across the state, Black, brown and indigenous folks are so disproportionately impacted by this crisis. If we don’t have racialized, informed policies about how to undo the racial discrimination that got folks in this position in the first place, then we’re really not doing the work. So again, we got to build the units. We got to understand the culturally responsive impacts, right? And then we have to sustain our investments.

Andy: Could we dig into that for a second because I want people to understand what it is you’re talking about. You know, I think not everybody knows the history of, for example, the GI Bill and how it worked for certain people and not others, about how recently there was redlining, about the inability for Black and brown communities to to get loans, to just pick a few things. So I know that there’s sensitivity in our society today. Well, the Supreme Court seems to think so, and Ron DeSantis seems to think that we should stop talking about things in racial terms. But I think it’s important to understand how we got here and not how we got here just over the last several hundred years, which I think everybody should have a perspective on, despite what DeSantis says  should be taught in schools. But how we’ve been getting here even in the last number of decades and more recently.

Tommy: I mean, 1,000,000%. You’ve touched on the long legacy of racism and housing. What about health care? Who qualified for Medicaid in this country until the Affordable Care Act? Who is able to get access to high quality health care? It certainly wasn’t single adults who are out there trying to figure out how to hold down a minimum wage job that didn’t provide health insurance and then deal with their knee or their back or whatever was going on. Right. Like, the list goes on and on and on. I saw a great tweet over the weekend that was sort of looking at the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as the actual beginning of democracy in this country. Well, well, that wasn’t very long ago. And now they’re working to roll that thing back. So it shows up in every space and place across this country. The thing that gives me a little bit of hope on this one, is I think that Millennials, X-ers, certainly the Z-ers, I see the next generations that are assuming power now, understanding this, not being scared by this, not being intimidated by this, but naming it and now working to solve it. I don’t have quite as much confidence in the Silent Generation and the Boomers out there. But I think that with generational change and a shift for what generations hold power, I see a little bit of hope and a little bit of opportunity.

Andy: People on the show heard me say this before. I’ve been involved in and mostly in related to health, but in efforts to fight disparities, and what I have learned, and maybe it’s applicable here, is it takes initiative and it takes effort. And if you take account of those things, you can really make a difference. If you don’t take account of those things, you’ve got very little chance. And there has been in health care, no greater force for health equity than the expansion of Medicaid. And you can look across the country, if you’re vulnerable to anything that’s going to cost you $500 or $1,000 and that’s going to throw you into bankruptcy or not cause you to make rent, it is very difficult to lead even a semblance of a life focused on your future and the future of your children. And so people think that health care coverage is just about health care. It’s not. It’s about the underpinning for people to lead a life which allows them to focus on things other than just survival. We’re getting a little bit away from homelessness and a little bit deeper into some broader issues, But I think they are all linked here, aren’t they?

Tomiquia: They really are. And I think that’s the key, Andy, is that they’re so interconnected. And unless we, you know, have that sort of sustained understanding of where these disparities began and how they persist, I mean, you know, it’s always interesting to me when folks are like, yeah, you know, but ‘we do care about racial equity and we want to you know, we want to make sure that, you know, black folks and brown people who are going through the homelessness response system are not having disparate outcomes.’ Well, the fact of the matter is, if we’re only looking at the homelessness response system and solving those racial inequities, then we’re failing because we’re not looking at the inputs, we’re not looking at the income disparities, the lack of access to quality health care. Right. So if the inputs are only looking at one system, we’re not looking at the broader picture. We’re not seeing foster care and how that is racialized and leading to our young people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. We’re not looking at the LGBTQ population, both of young people and adults who are, you know, experiencing disparities much more significantly than their peers. So again, I wish it were simple. I do. I think the solutions are simple, but I wish the issue was much more simple where folks could be like, got it. These things are connected.

Andy: Right. We have an unnatural craving for a silver bullet.

Tomiquia: Yes, we really do.

Andy: When we don’t find a silver bullet, we lose patience. So maybe this is a good place for us to finish the conversation, which is what can we do? I think people want to know. They’re in that 70% of people who believe this is a structural problem. There may be among the group of people who understand that they have a role to play. Let’s generate a list not of one thing because there’s that one silver bullet, but let’s just generate a list among us of the ‘what can you do if you want to help turn this around’ for people who are listening to this?

Tommy: I’m happy to jump in. I mean, I think a few things. I think that our biggest challenge is getting folks who agree, who understand this, who want to see a different future, to say that to anybody else, to say it to their colleagues.

Andy: To say what?

Tommy: To say, that, you know, I really think the primary reason for homelessness is the fact that there’s not enough housing for people. And we ought to be creating more housing.

Andy: So publicly identify the need for more affordable housing.

Tommy: 100%, 100%.

Andy: It’s good.

Tommy: People trust their friends. They trust their family members. They trust their colleagues. Right. And who talks about this stuff, especially in California, where everybody’s talking about homelessness and housing all the time. It defaults to the stereotypes, but under the surface there, people know, people understand. So I think communicating to your friends and family, like if you hear this podcast, share it with five people that you heard this interesting conversation that pulled back the layers of the onion a little bit more than you’d heard it before. That’s critical.

Andy: Share the podcast. I like that. That’s a good suggestion.

Tommy: I’m here to help.

Andy: What else? What other what other things?

Tomiquia: I have a couple. So one of the things that we really think is key in the solution set is making concurrent investments in housing, building more housing, getting it done as fast as we can homelessness, prevention and interim solutions. If you can encourage your communities to not just choose one.. Tommy said this: Mayor Bass is not going to solve the homelessness crisis by just creating temporary solutions. We need permanent housing and we need to be able to have resources to prevent folks from experiencing homelessness in the first place. And we can’t do the piecemeal peanut butter effect that we’ve been doing for decades. We need concurrent investments at scale, and we need to hold our policymakers and communities accountable for making those concurrent investments. The second thing, Andy, is we are actually working statewide on changing the rule of general obligation bonds. And this gets a little bit wonky, but these are the resources that communities need to build affordable housing. They’re often done through bonds. It is an increase in taxes in some communities, but it allows us to build tens of thousands of units across our state. We’re working on some efforts to lower the voter threshold from a two thirds majority, which is required now for any bond, any general obligation bonds for housing, which is a really high threshold to something lower than that. So we have some leadership in the legislature who is working on this, ACA One, we really want to encourage folks to understand that we have to give ourselves the tools to enable more housing production. And this is one.

Andy: So be supportive of housing bonds and be supportive of lowering the threshold for the vote.

Tomiquia: Voter threshold.

Andy: Voter threshold. Okay.

Tomiquia: That’s right.

Andy: Okay, good.

Tomiquia: And then the last thing I’d say is sort of, you know, this is, it sounds small, but it’s significant. Say yes to housing, period. Like. No matter what project is happening in your community, ADU, if it’s a multifamily, if it’s whatever. If you have concerns about the project that could make the project better, voice your concerns. But please do not block housing development in your communities and then in the next breath complain about homelessness.

Andy: Well, and then go speak up, because there’ll be people who will be at that City Council meeting.

Tomiquia: 100%.

Andy: Who will be saying, ‘You’re going to change the character and the nature of our community’ and so on. I’m going to add one more and see if you agree with it. If you are in the position in your life where you are paying people, the people who work for you, pay them enough to live in the community where they live. There’s this great line from the author, Colson Whitehead, where he says minimum wage is another way of saying, ‘If I could pay you less, I would.’ And I think it’s a responsibility that everybody takes to say, ‘Hey, if you’re working for me, I’m paying you. You are going to have enough to live in this community based upon what I pay you.’ That’s something that lots of people have control over and lots of people should be able to address and work on.

Tomiquia: Completely agree. We work on economic security issues. That is one of the key strategies. Folks need livable wages, family sustaining wages. One of the challenges we saw in the Bay Area — this is a quick stat I know we’re getting to the end of time — between 2000 to 2010, our region added 435,000 jobs to our region. Job rich — amazing. We added 55,000 units of housing during that same period of time. So A, pay people what they need in order to afford the housing and Bm build enough of the housing.

Andy: Build enough of the housing. So I’ll go back to one thing, I’m going to make one amendment to something you said earlier, which is if you have constructive criticism to make on someone’s project, go ahead, make it. Here is what constructive criticism sounds like. You know that 20 units you’re proposing? Make it 40.

Tommy: I love it. I love it. That’s well said.

Tomiquia: I love it.

Tommy: Andy, I just wanted to sign it off with one last thing, and maybe this is a bow to tie off that package. I would invite and I would encourage everybody to imagine a very different reality. Right? There are rich cities around this world that don’t have tens of thousands of people sleeping on their streets. There is another way. This is not how we need to experience life. This is not how this country needs to function or operate. Look around the world for examples and we should all be aspiring to a very different reality.

Andy: And you just gave us five or six things that I think many of us can take action on instead of waiting till the next dinner party conversation. In which case, if you haven’t done anything, you do have to look at yourself and say, ‘Who is responsible here if I haven’t done anything.’ So you guys both have been terrific. I really enjoyed this. Tomiquia Moss, Tommy Newman. It was a real pleasure to have you in the bubble.

Tomiquia: Thanks so much.

Tommy: Thanks for having me.

###

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our communities. Through collaboration, providing resources and building technology, our mission is to help build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

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